Warren J. Smith

Dr. Warren J. Smith

AddressPost Office Box 90968
Durham, NC 27708

Associate Professor of Historical Theology, Duke University Divinity School

B.A., Emory University,
M.Div., Yale University,
S.T.M., Yale University,
Ph.D., Yale University,

J. Warren Smith, Associate Professor of Historical Theology, is interested in the history of theology broadly conceived from the apostles to the present, but his primary focus is upon patristic theology. His book, Passion and Paradise: Human and Divine Emotion in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa (Crossroad, 2004) is a study of Nyssen’s ascetic theology as the intersection of his anthropology, soteriology, and eschatology. Central to this project is Nyssen’s view of the sublimation and transformation of human emotions and their role in his theory of epectacy, i.e. the soul’s eternal movement into God’s infinite and eternal being.The impetus behind the book was Dr. Smith’s concern for the question of realized eschatology:how can we in the present age live into the eschatological reality inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection?; The study examines Nyssen’s account of the Christian’s proleptic participation in Christ’s eschatological Kingdom through a life of asceticism that disciplines the body with its appetites and of contemplation that focuses the intellect upon God’s self-revelation in the divine economy.
Dr. Smith’s current project centers on the theological foundation of Ambrose of Milan’s teachings on the life of virtue. While a pervious generation of Ambrosian scholars have focused their study on the question of Ambrose’s sources, pagan (e.g. Cicero, Plotinus) and Judeo-Christian (Philo and Origen), this project builds upon and yet presses the horizon of that scholarly investigation to examine how Ambrose’s theological commitments influenced his appropriation and adaptation of his philosophical and exegetical sources. Specifically, this book explores how Ambrose understands the work of grace in baptism to heal the corruption of sin upon human nature and empowers that nature for a greater degree of virtue than the training of non-Christian philosophers by itself. The theological concern behind this project is a critique of Kant’s reduction of religion to ethics such that theology and dogma (often the source of division and conflict) can be dismissed. For Ambrose, by contrast, one’s understanding of the divine economy changes how one understands the life of virtue and the character of the cardinal virtues, wisdom, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Having laid out Ambrose’s anthropology, view of Law and grace, and the transformation of baptism, the study ends with a comparison of Aristotle’s account of the supremely virtuous individual, the Magnanimous Man, and Ambrose’s presentation of magnanimity manifest in the lives of Israel’s patriarchs and Christ.
Research projects on the horizon include studies of 1) Ante-Nicene Christology with particular emphasis upon Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, 2) the significance of the patristic Christian Platonist tradition for Christianity in a “post-modern” age, and 3) the appropriation of classical theories of oratory in patristic preaching.
Dr. Smith is also a United Methodist minister from the North Georgia Annual Conference. He lives in Durham with his wife, Kimberly Doughty who is a school social worker, and their children, Katherine and Thomas. His interests outside of Duke Divinity School include hiking, studying the American Civil War and 19th century British history, and ACC basketball (men’s and women’s).

Areas of Interest

Historical Theology;

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